Exchange Matters / February 29, 2016

The President’s Corner: The Meaning of “I Am Diplomacy”

Back in June of 2015, upon hearing that the National Meeting Committee chose ”I am Diplomacy” to be our meeting theme, I was apprehensive. “What does that mean?” I asked myself. At first blush it struck me as an oxymoron. Diplomacy is traditionally a nation’s exclusive domain. Putting “I am” in front of a term carrying so much heft, history and tradition seemed odd—and, some might say, disruptive.

My Global Ties U.S. team reminded me there was nothing “traditional” or normal about the times in which we live. We talked about the nature of our roles and our goal of building a more peaceful, prosperous world. The more I reflected on it, the more convinced I became that using “I am Diplomacy” as our national meeting theme would turn things on their heads a little bit and lead to a fruitful discussion.

“I am Diplomacy” underscored the three pillars of citizen diplomacy: agency, action, and accountability

Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman put it best when he accepted the Citizen Diplomat of the Year award, reminding us, “if it is to be, it is up to me.” If we want change—greater peace, hope, joy, prosperity, and understanding—we need to recognize that the power to make that change is within each of us. As I contemplated this humanitarian and businessman’s exhortation to us to act, I realized that “I am Diplomacy” underscored the three pillars of citizen diplomacy: agency, action, and accountability.

Agency is the expression of individual power though words and deeds. We saw dozens of examples of this at the National Meeting, showcasing how every individual, organization, and community expresses its strengths in unique ways. Agency was manifest at our Friday afternoon Citizen Diplomacy Luncheon where a number of individuals shared their personal stories. Michelle Wilson from Global Ties Akron shared a particularly powerful story about an IVLP delegation. The group was made up of doctors from Kuwait, were here in the U.S. to learn more about tackling the rapidly growing epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes affecting their country. One of their meetings included a visit to the local elementary school. When they approached the entrance to the school they found the doors covered with welcome greetings to each of the delegates in English and Arabic. They were greeted by student ambassadors who proudly led each of the doctors by hand on a tour of their school. Fellow students gave welcome speeches to greet their special guests. Then it was off for a tour of the students’ teaching gardens—a community project in partnership with the American Heart Association. Needless to say, any stereotypes or misconceptions were now long gone. Hearts melted. Friendships formed.

Action is self-explanatory and was on display at the National Meeting. I’m not alone when I write that I never saw our network and its supporters more active and cohesive. They took action, visiting 120 Congressional offices, encouraging elected officials to help us unleash the full power and potential of exchange programs in the face of the worst Washington, DC snowstorm in about 100 years.

Finally, Accountability signifies our obligation to accept responsibility. This too was very much on display at the National Meeting. We saw it at the session on evaluating local impact, held in partnership with University of Southern California’s Center for Public Diplomacy; at the multiple listening sessions we held for and with leaders of our network; and at the session led by the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

I believe that “I am Diplomacy” will become a mantra, inspiring everyone to take pride in their roles as actors and agents working to make our world more peaceful and prosperous.

We were thrilled to welcome 955 participants over the course of four packed days of professional development sessions, unique networking opportunities, and high-level plenary events. If you were able to join us, thank you for coming and for contributing to the conversations. Those who could not attend can read about or listen to the collective efforts of those 955 participants on our National Meeting page.

By Jennifer Clinton, PhD, President, Global Ties U.S. Follow her on Twitter:@CDJclinton